Homecoming: A Wally Crankset Tale
I heard the distinctive squeal of ancient Mafac brakes in the driveway. It could belong to only one of my friends. The front door banged open and Wally barged in unannounced. He was excited and barely able to contain the news.
"The Homecoming parade is in two weeks!" He fairly shouted. "I want to enter! Here's the application and everything. All I need is for you to fill it out and sign it."
I hesitated. This did not feel right, especially the part about putting my signature on the bottom-line. But I suspected the school float committee would reject any application that had Wally's signature. They had a long memory and an extensive file on him. There was something to do with numerous photos clipped from pornographic magazines that were slipped into books in the high school library during Wally's senior year. And 'numerous' may have been an understatement. The photos turned up from time to time for years afterward, an illustration of how well thumbed some of the books were. Then there was the unfortunate incident involving Mr. Ashland, the vice-principal, whose car played the Village People's "YMCA" at full volume when he switched on the ignition. It played over and over. A nefarious person had even wired in some external speakers, so the music could be heard for blocks. Turning off the car audio system had no effect. Nor did turning off the ignition. Someone had to remove a battery cable. Since Wally was the resident electronics wizard, he was widely blamed, though no proof was ever found.
"This is going on your permanent record!” Ashland was fond of saying. "It will follow you for the rest of your life!"
There were sheep loose in the cafeteria one morning. The basketball team discovered the balls glued to the floor. The vice principal's desk chair had flat spots ground into one wheel. And the stone dead coffee machine in the teacher's lounge was found filled with ice and beer bottles.
Then there was a rumor that Mr. Ashland's daughter Amy returned home drunk and half-naked after going on a date with Wally. He denied all of it, swearing that he'd never dated the girl. Even in high school he'd had a way with the ladies, but in this case I believed him. I don't know why, exactly, but I did. Mr. Ashland, however, stared daggers at both of us whenever he wandered by.
Wally was never caught red-handed, but he was always one of the usual suspects because he was in the vicinity whenever one of the atrocities occurred. In fact, he was the prime suspect. He seemed to revel in the notoriety. Mr. Ashland was certain that Wally was the culprit behind many of the pranks, and in truth, he was correct in that assumption most of the time. The fact that Wally got away with it only set the vice-principal's teeth on edge and made him more determined to pin something - anything - on my friend. In Wally's case there really WAS a permanent record, if only in Ashland's mind.
So it wasn't too surprising that Wally would want me to sign the application, even though our high school days were long ago. Mr. Ashland was still in his office like a malignant spider waiting patiently for a victim.
"Is this going to involve any electronics, pyrotechnics, or flammable liquids?” I asked. "Will alcohol be anywhere nearby?" I didn't have to worry about drugs. Wally had tried marijuana once and said it made him "weird".
"No, no, I'm gonna dress up as a clown and ride my high-wheeler." Wally had a lovely new reproduction of a nineteenth century ordinary with an intimidating 60-inch front wheel. “I'm going to be the Loonie Party candidate, Finger Lincoln Goode."
The Loonie Party was somehow very fitting and only partly joking. Then again, every other wackoid local politician would be in the parade, so it was only fair to include Wally.
The day of the parade, Wally showed up on the new bike, dressed in a moth-eaten tuxedo jacket, sweat pants, and a fright wig. He had clown white over most of his face, with a huge red nose and a bushy red monobrow. I've known Wally since we were kids and even I didn't recognize him. But I figured the chances of someone else dressed like that on a penny-farthing were very remote.
We lined up and rode just behind Shriners on scooters and ahead of Mr. Ashland, who drove his immaculately restored 1959 Cadillac convertible. His daughter, Amy rode in back as she was the Broken Elbow Teacher of the Year. Amy wore a lovely green gown and her long, blonde hair was plaited with yellow ribbons. She was gorgeous. Ashland watched Wally and me through narrowed eyes. He recognized me, but wasn't sure about Wally.
The tiny Broken Elbow marching band trailed along behind them. It was a small school in a small town. Most of the male band members were on the football team too, making for frantic wardrobe changes in the locker room at halftime. Like I said, it was a small town.
We were almost to the reviewing stand when Wally stood up to go over the new pavement at First Street. It was just an edge on the asphalt, and Wally did what any cyclist would do. He just stood on the pedals for a moment. But he'd forgotten about the sweat pants. When he stood up, they snagged the nose of the saddle and stayed down. He mooned Mr. Ashland and the roadside crowd, exposing his one-of-a-kind tattoo for all the world to see. (We do not discuss our tattoos. The circumstances are too…well….never mind.)
"Wally!” half a dozen women cried, and Amy cried the loudest. I filed that thought away for future reference.
Mr. Ashland heard - and turned to glare at her. Unfortunately he floored the convertible. It shot forward, narrowly missing a Shriner who jumped clear as the Cadillac crushed his scooter. When Ashland stopped and got out of the car to survey the damage to his beloved Cadillac, a shouting match started. It quickly degenerated to shoving, and then fists as other Shriners arrived. Townspeople joined in, and within a minute or so we had a full-scale riot. People grabbed the over-ripe vegetables from some of the farm floats and used them to pelt their foes.
Our local cops, Fred and Ethel showed up to quiet the mob. Fred was the chief of police and when the town council hired George Mertz, he just naturally became 'Ethel.' He didn't like it, but what could he do? Fred was a decent guy. He'd never embarrass his subordinate by calling him that. But everyone else did. The clincher came when the Traffic Court judge inadvertently called him Ethel, and after that he was stuck with it. His wife became 'Mrs. Ethel', which she found hilariously funny. Women are like that. Ethel was overly fond of giving out speeding tickets, jaywalking tickets, and even ran down overdue library books. He was not liked.
The mob was more gleeful than angry as they tossed over-ripe tomatoes, dried corncobs, unpleasant squash, and even a few smallish pumpkins at ach other. Someone yelled, "Hey! Ethel!" He turned, only to get splattered with a tomato to the back of the head. He turned again to see who threw it as a well-aimed ear of corn connected just below his belt. Ethel went down hard, clutching his head just as he'd been taught in gym class. Tough guys never grabbed themselves 'down there'. He lay on the pavement whimpering slightly as rotten tomatoes rained down on him.
The fire department arrived and hosed down the crowd, paying special attention to any young women in tight clothing. Some were indignant about it. Some were not. Afterward, I was helping one of the 'not' group to her feet when I spotted Mr. Ashland only yards away.
"Amy! Amy!" he called. He looked around for her in the soggy crowd, and then rushed back to his car that was now half-filled with over-ripe produce. He dug through the pile frantically, obviously afraid that Amy was somewhere underneath. It was a fruitless search. Amy was gone.
Right about then I noticed Wally was gone too. Ashland's head swiveled in my direction.
"You! You and your friend are responsible for all of this!" Ashland shouted. "I'm gonna kill you!" He jumped into the car, slammed it into gear and lurched across the parking lot toward me.
I pedaled furiously down the street and into the festival area. The crowd parted before the horn-blaring Cadillac, except for one person, a mime who was playing to the crowd and oblivious to the approaching danger. He fell under the car and was shaken but essentially unhurt. I escaped through the crowd when Ashland stopped to pull the mime out from under the Cadillac. In my estimation, he needn't have bothered, though who knew that mimes could cuss like that? I guess if you can't talk, it kind of builds up like water behind a dam. And when this particular dam broke the results were both colorful and inventive. Some kids in the crowd learned a slew of brand-new vocabulary words.
I twisted and turned through alleys and backyards getting out of the downtown area. I shot down the alley behind Wild Bill's No-Tell Mo-Tell on the edge of town. Wally's ordinary was partly hidden in the weeds out back and a yellow ribbon that looked suspiciously like one of Amy's was tangled in the spokes. I realized then that to the end of my days I would never understand women, but the thought evaporated quickly as my attention was more focused on watching for a vengeful maniac in a Cadillac.
I rode on.